Moving Closer to the Legalization of Abortion in Argentina

The feminist movement is about to achieve a historic conquest in Argentina. After years of struggle and social debate, President Alberto Fernandez has announced the introduction of a bill for the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy. It adds to the bill of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion (which has already been introduced eight times and was first debated in 2018), and would legalise abortion in Argentina.

At Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (Catholics for the Right to Choose), we have witnessed firsthand the growth of the ‘green wave‘. The movement convenes activists across generations and calls for the dismantling of patriarchal structures to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Green Wave Reaches Congress 

Photo by Natalia Roca

We have actively participated in the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion since its founding. Early pioneers would collect signatures in city squares to support the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy bill that they themselves had written. Today, young women march with the green scarf of autonomy over their bodies.

It was a long time before the bill was discussed in Congress. And though it was finally rejected by the Senate, there was extensive debate. The green wave managed to consolidate a collective voice that continues to defend abortion as a matter of public health, social justice and human rights. We claim autonomy over our bodies as an unavoidable step towards full citizenship and the lay state as the fundamental axis for guaranteeing rights. 

As Catholic and feminist activists, we pose the need to remove religion from the heart of the debate.

By doing so, we can reveal the moral and religious background behind the arguments against women’s autonomy. Throughout its history, the Catholic Church has not held a unique position on abortion. Biblical texts have not included it as a central moral issue. Feminist theology gives us a broader vision that can help us to build more inclusive churches. It also enables us to guarantee the secularity of the state while taking into account the diversity of opinions and realities. Therefore, our view reflects the possibility of being women of faith and supporting the right to choose.

One of the phrases we have printed on our green scarves and T-shirts is: “Mary was asked to be the mother of Christ”. These are not just words. They signal an ethical position from which we consider the decisions women make throughout their lives. They call for attentive listening in order to defend the life and health of all those with the ability to gestate.

Abortion as a Debt of Democracy

In Argentina, interruption of pregnancy is currently legal only if the pregnancy is the result of a rape or the pregnant woman’s life or health is in danger. However, there are still multiple barriers that force women to resort to clandestine, and often unsafe, abortions. These include: disparity in access to information and quality health services, professionals who present themselves as conscientious objectors, multiple inequalities that persist in our country, and moral and religious prejudices.

There are approximately 54 abortions per hour in Argentina. That’s 1300 per day and 520,000 per year. At least 3040 women have died from unsafe abortions in the last 30 years. During 2018, seven girls between 10 and 14 years old gave birth per day. Every day we are faced with a critical scenario regarding the health of women and girls. The more time we take to ensure access to sexual and reproductive rights, the more lives will be impacted.

Photo by Emergentes

What does the bill presented by the @CampAbortoLegal say?

1. It guarantees access to abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy. After the 14th week, it authorizes the procedures with no time limit or judicial complaint if a woman’s life or health is at risk, or in the case of rape.

2. It defines health according to the World Health Organization – complete physical, mental and social well-being – and defines the right to abortion as a human right. Abortion as a right must be included in the contents of comprehensive sex education, as well as in teachers’ training courses and courses for health care professionals. 

3. It guarantees abortion without distinction of origin, nationality, residence and/or citizenship of the person who requests it. People who are migrants in transit are included. Furthermore, the practice must be guaranteed within the five calendar days in which the abortion is requested. The person seeking the abortion must sign an informed consent form, and this must be the ONLY pre-requisite.

4. It guarantees access to information on abortion. This must be relevant, accurate, secular, up-to-date and scientific, in the language that the person communicates in and in accessible formats. The person may request counselling, but it is not mandatory.

5. It guarantees the right to abortion access for children and teenagers. In all cases, the best interests of the child must prevail. No person can be replaced in the exercise of the right to decide. All insurance plans, health care systems and prepaid private systems must guarantee the practice free of charge. This will be a Public Order Act and its implementation is compulsory throughout the territory of the Nation.

It Will be Law

The coronavirus pandemic has forced countries to take urgent measures to stop the spread of the infection, and we understand the need to give priority to the global health crisis we are currently facing. We also know that, sooner rather than later, we will achieve the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Act in Argentina. Meanwhile, we will continue working and collaborating to get through this pandemic. Special attention must be paid to the impact of COVID-19 on women, sexual minorities and other vulnerable sectors of our society. We will continue accompanying those who need us, fighting for our rights, and building a world of justice. Together, we are making history. There is no turning back.

We are organized and we have political experience – accumulated over many years of struggle. Working together with a network of health professionals, lawyers, journalists and teachers, we have strengthened ourselves. We have developed response mechanisms to assist, guide and train people who need it. Our strength is collective and it is nourished by the intergenerational exchanges that have made this green wave possible. It is a green wave that fills us with pride.

Since 2018, when more than one million people flooded the streets, we have witnessed the growth of the movement, the intensification of social debate and the building of consensus that influences public opinion. We have no doubt that the right to abortion will be law in Argentina and when that day comes, it will find us together.

Photo by Emergentes

Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir Argentina is a Safe Abortion Action Fund grantee partner.

What Indiana’s New Religious Freedom Restoration Act Means for Women 

Today, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allowing for individuals and companies with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to refuse service to individuals who do not align with their beliefs. Although the Governor and his Republican colleagues refute the claim that this bill legalizes religious discrimination, it clearly does.

For example, the law protects Christian bakers, florists, and photographers from punishment if they refuse to participate in a homosexual marriage. (Same-sex marriage was legalized in Indiana in October of 2014.) Now, that might sound seemingly harmless. After all, if same-sex partners are looking for wedding day caterers or other services, they could always choose another, more LGBT-friendly company. Unfortunately, that may be easier said than done when 80 percent of Indiana’s population follows the Christian faith. But that’s beside the point. The point is that they shouldn’t have to look elsewhere. (Before students staged the 1960 Nashville sit-ins at Woolworth’s lunch counter, the same argument was used to justify segregation in restaurants.)

I got married in 2013 and I know from experience that planning a wedding can be a time-consuming albeit exciting task. It’s a big day and a big celebration, and you and your partner both want it to be memorable and meaningful. If, for some people, memorable and meaningful means hiring the best photographers, the best caterers, so be it. They should not be limited to companies who are not anti-LGBT. And who knows, maybe no companies will be left that support same-sex marriage. Who will help those couples on their special day?

Although this law is aimed primarily towards the LGBT community, its consequences stretch much further.

Around the world, communities often use religion as the foundation of political and social norms. For women, this can mean discrimination and gender inequality.

In America, religious extremists often argue against women’s rights – particularly sexual and reproductive rights. In the 19th century, the Catholic church established that life begins at conception, creating the religious-based anti-abortion war that still rages to this day.

Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons
Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons

Many anti-abortion Catholics and evangelicals cite Psalm 139 in the Bible, which says “it was (the Lord) who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Another common religious argument against abortion is the story of Moses’ birth, whose mother defied Pharaoh’s order to kill all Hebrew boys and, instead, placed her infant son in a basket to float down the Nile, only later to be rescued, raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, and grow up to share God’s Ten Commandments.

Unfortunately for women in the United States, anti-abortion activists are gaining momentum and support. This past January, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared that his goal as governor was to “end abortion in Mississippi” and, a few weeks later, the state’s last remaining abortion clinic was severely vandalized.  Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who recently announced he’s running for president in the 2016 elections, once referred to birth control as abortion-inducing (which is just scientifically incorrect). When Republicans took control of the Congress in January, one of its first acts was to propose a 20-week abortion ban, a proposal that included efforts to require women to officially report having been raped in order to be qualified for an abortion.

Let’s be honest, the vast majority of women do not want to get an abortion. Getting an abortion is a serious, emotionally draining, and life-changing decision. Women have differing and equally valid reasons for seeking an abortion – whether it be they are not financially able to support a child; they were raped; the fetus, when born, will suffer from extreme disabilities; or otherwise.

However, the consequences of the religious argument against abortion do not limit themselves to just abortion. In Texas, a judge banned the use of federal funding for abortions and, as a result, Planned Parenthood, a leader in the pro-choice movement, lost millions in federal funding. To be clear, Planned Parenthood is not solely an abortion provider. In one year, over 110,000 lower-income women in Texas received preventative treatment for breast and cervical cancer treatments, 48,000 of whom were treated by Planned Parenthood. Additionally, Planned Parenthood enables women to access a variety of birth control methods including the pill, IUDs, menstrual cups, and more. (I, myself, can thank Planned Parenthood for inserting my IUD. Thanks Planned Parenthood!) Therefore, by eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, Texas effectively eliminated funding for women’s health.

When the United Nations calls access to safe, voluntary family planning a human right and “central to gender equality and women’s empowerment,” why are we using religion as an excuse to deny women their sexual and reproductive rights?

Indiana’s passing of RFRA fuels the fire behind the aforementioned religious-based arguments. We, as a society – no matter your race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, age, income – need to band together, raise our voices, and reject this law. If we don’t, we are looking at a world of consequences, for the LGBT community, for women, for everyone.

Sign the petition to recall Governor Mike Pence.

Cover photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When Pastors and Priests Prey

Last week on January 16th in Geneva, Switzerland, a historic milestone took place as the Holy See went before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The committee was seeking detailed information on the sexual violence against children by Catholic clergy around the world, its cover up within the church and the denial of justice and compensation for victims.

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

A day earlier I went to a special screening of Silence in the House of God, a HBO documentary which details the first known protests against clergy sexual abuse in the USA. The documentary also exposures other cases of sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy around the world. After the documentary, the Center for Constitutional Rights hosted a panel discussion with survivors of clergy sexual abuse. It was emotional to hear their stories and inspiring to witness their unbroken spirits and determination to secure justice.

The realities of clergy sexual abuse of women and minors both boys and girls is now more widely known. However, it is still a taboo subject for many and some victims feel as though they have nowhere to turn with little support from their communities due to the status of clergy persons.

In October 2013, the World Christian Student Federation (WSCF) re-launched a book titled When Pastors and Priests Prey – Identifying, Preventing and Overcoming Clergy Sexual Abuse of Women, a book, which aims to raise awareness about identifying, preventing and overcoming clergy sexual abuse of women.

We hope that this effort will begin a cultural transformation within the worldwide church.” ~ Christine Housel, General Secretary of the WSCF

The book, which was supported by the World Council of Churches’ Women in Church and Society project, offers insights from researchers, advocates and survivors. Also included is a speech by former President Jimmy Carter to the Parliament of the World Religions in which he states:

The truth is the male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”

As in any case of sexual abuse it is essential that justice prevails and that the perpetrators are brought before the law and punished for their horrific crimes. However, in situations involving the clergy such as catholic priests, the Holy See have their own law known as Canon – religious – Law, when asked to provide information on known sexual abuse cases (letter of complaints from victims and legal documents of canon law trials of sexual abuse perpetrators) the Holy See declined stating that it is

not the practice of the Holy See to disclose information on the religious discipline.”

This presents a serious problem and complete lack of transparency.

Instead of the sexual abuse perpetrators and paedophiles receiving prison sentences and rehabilitation, these men are simply either stripped of their priesthood or in the case of women (nuns) denied Catholic membership (but are still able to live freely never being brought to justice) or sent to a Catholic rehabilitation centre and then placed into a different parish to continue their religious life as clergy persons and therefore are free to commit the abuse all over again.

In May 2013, the Catholic Archbishop of Durban said in a BBC interview that he had dealt with cases of child sex abuse, which were handled by the church internally, and not referred to the police. There are thousands of cases just like this; clergy, brothers, preachers, pastors and nuns, many churches and religious institutions intertwined in ungodly acts such as sexual and physical abuse, is this really justice?

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

An NGO report submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child earlier this year by the Centre for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), lists harrowing examples of the kind of harm done to children by Catholic priests which was subsequently covered up by the Church: a priest who regularly forced sex upon two boys simultaneously; the case of a 9 year old girl who was molested in the confessional booth; that of another 15 year old girl who was taken for an abortion by the same priest who had raped and impregnated her; and a priest who offered money to boys in exchange for acts of sadomasochism – the list is extensive.

This is a global problem with cases from all regions of the world being reported. All perpetrators of any form of abuse must be held accountable by the same laws that govern ‘lay persons’ and those that know and try to cover up the abuse (such as Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger) are as guilty as those who commit the crimes – in my opinion. Therefore, let’s break the silence, demand justice for all and prevent this abuse from continuing. Holy See it is time to confess your sins and be held accountable.

For more information

Child Sexual Abuse and the Holy See, a preliminary report from Child Rights International Network

Twitter

#HolySeeConfess

@CRINwire

@SNAPNetwork

@Pontifex_ln

Cover image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons